SUNDAY - WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1-4, 2007. CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA. Cartagena is considered Colombia's colonial city jewel. Sitting on a small peninsula, it was founded in 1533 and quickly became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast. Treasures plundered from Indians were stored here before shipping back to Spain. This made Cartagena a target for pirates. As a result of five major pirate seiges in the 16th century, the Spanish made Cartagena into a fortress city, constructing a perimeter wall around the city and several nearby forts. As a major port, Cartagena became one of the primary points of entry for African slaves to South America. Cartagena's large African and mixed race population is testament to this history.
Much of the old city has been preserved and restored with many high-end restaurants, shops, and hotels frequented by wealthy Colombians and international package tourists. Many of the buildings are empty and in the process of being restored. The weather is generally hot and humid, but an onshore breeze cools things down.
Jeff and I stayed at Hostel Baluarte in Getsemani (35,000 CP/double; $17), the Zona Red district (the main backpacker accommodation area). We spent our days here wandering the old city streets (mostly in search of cafes, bookshops with English language titles, and draft beer) and exploring a nearby fort. Overall, Cartagena is a pleasant and relaxing city with good restaurants, shops, and accommodations. Although the renovations look great, the old city lacks the old colonial feel found in other colonial cities, perhaps due to all the fresh coats of paint and lack of residents.